A look at the many different sorts of knop used to decorate the stems of Georgian baluster wine glasses and their derivitives:

Now, not something that you’ll hear me say very often, but bearing in mind the aggregation of discourses on all manner of archaic goings on which pervade these pages on a regular basis  – that’s enough history for a while !

This means it’s time to discard that particular hobby horse – thrown to the back of the toy cupboard with my stick and hoop and wooden building blocks – and to drag another old favourite out of dust-gathering redundancy – hurrah – it’s time for pedantry and technical exactitude !
So, knops. Knobbly bits on stemware, a particular favourite of those whose fate is to describe antique glassware as they get to bandy about a few mysterious sounding words and give the impression that they know unequivocally what they are on about, so let’s take a closer look as this particular aspect of glass collecting.

First up – the word itself. You may be tempted to assume that it’s simply a different version of “knob” in so far as they are, in simple terms, knobs worked in to the structure of glass stems, but there is a more accurate derivation, which dates right back to the first use of the work to refer to “a decorative swelling” in the 1670’s (as per A Large Dictionary in Three Parts by Thomas Holyoake, which was deemed to be “the most compleat and useful of any that was ever yet extant in this kind”). It is, in fact, a corruption of “knot” which, when you consider the appearance of a length of string or cord with a knot tied in the middle then pulled out straight, is a far better approximation of what one of the things looks like than describing it just as “a knob”. The word was also used as a verb - to make knots - and also to denote “woollen stuff on the top of a cap – a top-knot” (which, of course, references Gareth Bale and his woeful hair – see – it all makes sense !) Of course, further credence is given to the knot derivation as opposed to knobs, as knots tend to be in the middle of things whereas knobs are on an end – as are the swollen protruberances in question.

Within a very few years of making its initial appearance, the word knop was used to describe features applied to silver candlesticks, and also in a botanical sense to refer to swellings in otherwise predominantly straight plant stems, either where buds were developing, where other branches had been snipped off, or swellings caused by the presence of a canker or infestation by parasites (Gareth Bale again, see…) It was also used as a colloquial name for ladybirds (presenting the familiar profile as they clung on to grass stems) and, when stemware began to feature the relevant design features, it was quickly taken to be an appropriate name for such things.

So – that’s where they are called what they are – what of their various shapes and forms ?

There are a dozen or so fairly basic types, which can be either slightly modified or combined together to create a wide range of options from which the glassmaker can choose; let’s catalogue the basics (with examples of each show in the pictures below for reference), and one or two of the less common varieties too:

Ball: simple and straightforward – a uniformly spherical globe

Flattened: a ball that’s laterally flattened to both the top and bottom at right angles to the stem, though with a fairly sharp transition from stem to knop body

Egg: a ball that looks to have been extended to both top and bottom, parallel to the stem, although the profile is evenly curved, rather than being a true egg-shape

Annular: a flattened knop which is further compressed to the point where its upper and lower surfaces are tending towards being flat, the appearance being that of a fat ring that’s been slid over the stem

Annulated: giving the appearance of a combination of three annular knops of differing size that have been compressed together

Angular: very similar to a flattened knop, but with noticeably curved transitions from stem to knop

Mushroom: a ball flattened just to its lower half so that it is semi-circular in profile

Cushioned: a combination of a ball knop sitting directly on top of an annular ring

Cylinder: an elongated ball with no reduction in its circumference along the straight edges between its two curved ends

Acorn: an abbreviated cylinder with an annular ring of greater width immediately above it

Drop: a ball knop drawn upwards from its midpoint, tapering in width until it matches that of the stem itself

Bladed: a flattened knop but with flat faces to both its top and bottom, rather than being curved

Capstan: an annular ring over a portion of the stem with a curved profile widening to something approaching a flat mushroom – obviously giving the overall profile of a ships capstan

Merse: narrow annular rings, but wider than would normally be the case and looking more like a flattened disc

Balusters and inverted balusters: contouring applied to the full length of the stem and like a drop knop in profile, but made as a continuous, drawn feature rather than being added on as a separate piece

So – there are the basic forms, which will hopefully be readily identifiable with the help of the labelled pictures below one you are able to discern the sublte variations that single out each different type. The bottom row shows how multiple knop types can be combined on the same stem, so the variety of combinations which could be used was almost unlimited.

The position of knops on the stem is also described by the addition of specific words to the name: shoulder knops sit at the top of the stem, just under the bowl, basal knops are just above the foot at the base of the stem and medial knops are in the middle – all clever stuff !
The knops themselves would occasionally be further decorated; note the examples of round knops shown below – one of which has ribbed striations applied to it and the other which contains a tear or air bubble. Some knops were also augmented by the addition of prunts - small moulded glass features used to approximate fruit.

As ever, follow the link to visit our website index pages showing all the examples of knopped glasses which we have featured, and if there are any varieties other than those listed of which you are aware, please let us know !
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